You can’t totally make up for what Desmond Bane does for the Memphis Grizzlies.
His shooting prowess stands out in his evolving skillset. Stephen Curry is really the only other player on the planet who has a better argument for being a better shooter than Bane. The third-year guard has also separated himself from typical sharpshooters with how he generates his offense. He can get his shot off from deep in a variety of ways: catch-and-shoot, dribble handoffs, transition pull-ups, or shot creation.
He’s one of the few players in this league with the green light to fire from deep 3-point range or with a lot of time on the shot clock.
The strides Bane has made in his game make him more invaluable. He’s emerged as a bonafide 2nd option next to Ja Morant, due to his improving creation abilities. He relieves pressure off of Morant with his ability to run the offense in doses — and those doses have increased over the past 2 seasons. His playmaking has made a legitimate leap where he’s creating more looks for his teammates (upping his assist average from 2.7 to 4.8) and for himself (decreasing his “assisted rate on shots” from the 70 to 55% — 80th percentile among wings, per Cleaning the Glass).
So back to the original point — it’s challenging to fill in for Desmond Bane with just one “next man up.” The Grizzlies will need to make up for it by committee. Even then, it will be a tall task to replicate his 3-point production. A part of the aggregate will be elevating their production in other areas.
What needs to be done to tread water in the midst of their supernova shooter’s absence?
Getting Jaren Jackson Jr. in his groove
I wrote about this in yesterday’s breakdown on Jaren Jackson Jr.’s season debut: his return comes at a great time for the Grizzlies, but at an uneasy time for him.
In a normal situation, Jackson would have eased back into his rhythm offensively, as Ja Morant and Desmond Bane would handle the bulk of scoring responsibilities. With Bane out of the lineup, Jackson has to find his offensive groove quicker than expected.
It’s fairly easy to say that he was shaking off the rust offensively in his return on Tuesday. He connected on only 3 of his 14 shot attempts and missed all 7 of his three-point attempts. The looks on his shots were great. It just seemed like he was getting his legs under him.
The rust will need to be shaken off rather quickly. With Bane’s absence, Jackson won’t be afforded as much time to find his rhythm as originally anticipated.
The good news is there were designs to generate clean looks from downtown. The Grizzlies ran him through screen-and-pop actions to discombobulate the defense to open up a 3-point look for Jackson. In addition, he found enough daylight to fire from deep as a “trailer” in the offensive set — lingering behind the ball-handler in transition in hopes to receive a quick pitch to step in for a 3.
Jackson’s 3-point shot will need to reemerge in some capacity over the next few weeks. Will he trend closer to the 36-40 percent range he was in prior to his knee injury? Or will his percentages stay in the low 30s? That’s going to be an important development in both the short-term of the Grizzlies’ outlook without Bane — as well as the long-term trajectory of Jackson’s development.
They could also find looks from him inside the arc. Though he’s struggled to connect on shots inside the arc — shooting only 58% from the rim (11th percentile among big men, per Cleaning the Glass — the Grizzlies should look to generate clean openings for Jackson to raise his confidence offensively with easy buckets.
Former GBBer Chip Williams shared the idea of using Jackson in the dunker’s spot more often, and that design would benefit Jackson in getting easier offense — scoring off dump-offs or putbacks. They could also run more big-to-big actions in DHO or high-screen situations with him and either Steven Adams or Brandon Clarke.
Whichever way the Grizzlies seek to get Jaren Jackson Jr. back into a flow offensively will be crucial to treading water without their 2nd option offensively. Now is the time for Jackson to step into that role, one envisioned for him at the beginning of this iteration of Grizzlies basketball.
The Right Dose of Dillon Brooks
Dillon Brooks’ optimal role will have to wait, as he’s once again tasked with more offensive responsibilities due to an injury for a cornerstone player. It’s been a recurring theme in his time in Memphis dating back to his rookie season.
Dillon Brooks will need to be a creator during Bane’s absence, and for him and the Grizzlies, it’s about finding the right dose.
Brooks already showed more of a willingness to let it from deep, shooting 9 three-pointers in Tuesday night’s loss. While he isn’t near Bane’s caliber as a shooter, it may be important for him to let it fly.
Again, in the right dose.
He has to continue to find his 3-point shot within the flow of the offense — both from a contested standpoint and from the shot clock view. Brooks has made it a habit to shoot contested jumpers, whether it’s from 3-point or in the mid-range. In addition, he frequently lets it fly from deep and gives up too much time on the shot clock in the process. While his offensive aggressiveness will be needed, these elements are important in Brooks’ quest for more efficient shooting — even in Bane’s absence.
Brooks doesn’t have to step in for Bane by focusing on his 3-point attack. Instead, he should be emulating a lot of Bane’s actions inside the arc — which in turn, is a key (albeit, inconsistent) strength for Brooks. A lot of this starts with synergy with Steven Adams and using his brute force on screens to generate clean looks in the mid-range area. In addition, he should seek more cutting opportunities for Adams to dart passes in the right window for shots at the rim.
Dillon Brooks will be relied on heavily during this stretch. For better or for worse, he’s the only other reliable perimeter creator aside from Morant with this healthy roster. The task for Brooks and for the coaching staff is finding the right balance of aggressive shot-creating and efficient shooting.
It’ll be unfair to suggest that John Konchar, Jake LaRavia, and David Roddy need to fill in the void lost from Desmond Bane’s shooting alone. It may even be a bit challenging to do in the aggregate, given their respective slots within the team’s pecking order.
However, these players will be key drivers for the Grizzlies’ 3-point outlook over the next couple of weeks.
Starting with the “next man up” for the 2-guard position, John Konchar has made a concerted effort to let it fly from 3 more often. In the early going thus far, he’s doubled his 3-point attempt average, now hoisting up 3.6 threes per game. In the process, his 3-point percentage hasn’t dropped off dramatically, shooting 39.2% from 3 — down from 41.3 last season. While he’ll still add value in other ways (ball moving, rebounding, and leaking out in transition), his 3-point assertiveness will be magnified during this stretch. As a starter, he has more opportunities to let it fly and has taken advantage of them (4.7 three-point attempts per game in 6 starts). He’ll need to create clean looks by finding passing windows from playing off of Morant, Brooks, and Jackson.
A good starting point would be to actually play Jake LaRavia — the more prolific shooter of the duo, and arguably the team’s second-best pure shooter. It was confounding to bench another 3-point weapon when the team’s best shooter is out. A shooting slump likely led to LaRavia’s omission from the rotation, as he didn’t make a single 3 in 7 attempts over the previous 3 games. However, the Grizzlies need outside shooting at this instant, and LaRavia needs to be a part of the rotation to help in that department.
David Roddy hasn’t shot the ball well this season, only making 26.1% of his attempts. He has sound mechanics, and he’s flashed potential as a spot-up shooter. While he can help the Grizzlies out in other ways offensively — primarily advantage creation and transition scoring — this time could be an opportunity for him to grow accustomed to the NBA 3-point line and find his groove from distance.
Konchar, LaRavia, and Roddy are all not relied upon to fill in for Desmond Bane by themselves, but together they could fire more outside jumpers to help the 3-point shooting gap not be so distant. In the process, they could grow more comfortable and confident in their growth as 3-point threats.
Last season, it felt daunting to survive the stretch of play without Ja Morant roughly a year ago today. Given the offensive production he was churning, it felt like everything would just fall apart. Instead of relying on offense to tread water, their defense was pivotal during Morant’s absence, and it generated momentum to spark a run toward the top of the Western Conference.
In the first stretch without Morant (November 28 — December 19), the Grizzlies sported the best Defensive Rating by a mile, smothering opponents to just 98.1 points per 100 possessions. Within Morant’s second lengthy stint on the injury report (March 20 — April 7), the Grizzlies held opponents to a league-best 106 points per 100 possessions. In the midst of all that, the offense buoyed just enough to take care of opponents rather easily, sporting double-digit net ratings in both periods.
Could a similar formula be replicated? It’s possible, and it all starts with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks.
The numbers with Jackson and Brooks last year ruled. In 1138 possessions together, the Grizzlies blitzed opponents by 17.3 points per 100 possessions, while stifling opponents to 102.5 points in the same sample — per Cleaning the Glass. The formula for success is simple. They have an elite defensive stopper and an elite rim protector, creating a fortifying defense at all 3 levels.
Morant’s defensive improvements this season could be pivotal in this stretch too. He flourishes as a defender that could capitalize on passing lanes to generate deflections and steals, and it’s something he could do more often alongside defenders of Jackson and Brooks’ caliber — as well as a drop defender like Adams.
The promising news in this, lineups with Morant, Brooks, and Jackson have intriguing upside even without Bane. Although the minuscule sample of 66 possessions, the Grizzlies had a Defensive Rating of 80.9(!) and a Net Rating of +35.8 with this lineup combination. Is it sustainable in higher dosage? It’s unlikely, but the impact of it has a credible foundation.
It will also be a team effort from everyone in the rotation to create defensive events to ignite more transition offense to make up for the loss of 3-point shooting in Bane’s absence.
Though not ideal, an attentive focus on defense during this stretch could help elevate them from their slow start on that side of the floor — just like it did last season.
It’s a challenging task of filling in for Desmond Bane, and the Grizzlies luckily haven’t had to navigate games without his version of him much over the past year. Nonetheless, this is unfamiliar territory for them, as the “next man up” has always been a mantra for them.
You don’t replace a supernova shooter with just one player or in just one area. Instead of the “next man up,” it’ll be a “next men up” effort on both sides of the ball to tread water in this stretch without their rising star shooting guard.